On July 18, 2012, Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), against the U.S. Departments of ...
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On July 18, 2012, Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"), against the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asked the court for both declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that federal rules adopted pursuant to the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA") violated its religious freedom by requiring it to provide coverage for contraception through its group health insurance plan. Specifically, the plaintiff objected to the ACA rules requiring it to provide coverage for emergency contraception, which the plaintiff considered an abortifacient. The plaintiff did not object to other forms of contraception. Claiming that providing coverage for emergency contraception would both contravene its Christian faith and compel speech contrary to its beliefs, the plaintiff sought an exemption from the ACA's contraception mandate for itself and other institutions with similar religious objections.
On August 10, 2012, the defendant departments moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The defendants argued that the plaintiff could not claim any imminent harm because the plaintiff qualified for the enforcement "safe harbor" period extending until January 1, 2014, and because the defendants were in the process of amending the contraceptive coverage regulations to accommodate the objections of religious institutions like the plaintiff. In its brief opposing the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff argued that it could claim imminent harm because the safe harbor period did not protect it from private ERISA lawsuits seeking to enforce the contraception mandate, and because the anticipated amendments likely would not change the emergency contraception coverage requirement.
On August 24, 2012, the District Court (Judge Ellen S. Huvelle) granted the defendants' motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Judge Huvelle found that, in light of the defendants' efforts to address the plaintiff's concerns via the safe harbor period and the anticipated amendments, the plaintiff had not alleged a concrete and imminent harm, and that as a result the plaintiff lacked standing and its claim was not yet ripe for review. Wheaton College v. Sebelius, 887 F. Supp. 2d 102 (D.D.C. 2012).
The plaintiff appealed the dismissal and injunction denial to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Case No. 12-5273). The case was consolidated with Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius (Case No. 12-5291) on appeal. On December 18, 2012, the Circuit Court (Judges Merrick B. Garland, Thomas B. Griffith, and A. Raymond Randolph) affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of ripeness, and ordered that the lawsuit be held in abeyance pending the issuance of the amended contraceptive coverage regulations. The defendants were directed to file status reports with the court every 60 days from the date of the abeyance order. Wheaton College v. Sebelius, 703 F.3d 551 (D.C. Cir. 2012).
On August 13, 2013, the Court of Appeals remanded the case and ordered the lower court to vacate the August 24, 2012, judgment and dismiss both cases as moot. The plaintiffs refiled this case in the Northern District of Illinois on December 13, 2013. Wheaton College v. Sebelius
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